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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » April 28, 2011
Polska… tastes good!
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Seek and Ye Shall Find: It’s Worth Investing in Agriculture
April 28, 2011   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development:

After the tough 1990s, when state-run farms were closed down and the entire economy was going through a transition to a new system, at the start of the 21st century Polish agriculture began to develop rapidly.

The years directly preceding Poland’s European Union entry were a time of deep changes in agriculture and its environment. When we changed the constitution in 1997, I was one of those who drafted the article on family farms. These are the foundations of the agricultural system not only in Poland but in the European Community. It’s worth remembering that the Common Agricultural Policy was developed to safeguard consumers’ food needs, while guaranteeing the profitability of farms. Family farms, which dominate in Poland, are changing radically. During the eight years between the census in 2002 and the census of 2010, our agricultural system lost almost 400,000 farms with an area of up to 5 hectares. There was no increase in fallow land during this time, which means that other people—most often neighbors—took over the land, increasing their own farms. The people getting rid of their farms, on the other hand, found jobs outside agriculture, in many cases also in the countryside. Among other factors, this was made possible by support for micro-enterprises.

At the same time, these data tell us that Poland gained many new farms ranging from 50 to 100 hectares. Such farms tend to be competitive.

We need to remember that changes in rural areas cannot be revolutionary, only evolutionary. In Poland, these changes are taking place quickly. In the “old” EU countries the process took decades.

Today we are in the process of seeking a new model. We have to look at European and particularly Polish agriculture in terms of three segments. The first segment includes small farms, those occupying a few to a dozen hectares. They should process their products, while at the same time their owners should have employment opportunities outside agriculture. This would help guarantee that their standard of living could be maintained. The second segment comprises medium-sized farms of up to several dozen hectares. Within this category, they can join forces as producer groups and thus create a basic supply source for small- and medium-scale processing or for a given region. The final group comprises large commodity farms that are able to compete on the European and global market. Each of these models is needed and of course a large farm can also be a family farm, but it has to be able to hire outside employees.

Generally speaking, Europe is aging. Our situation is good. Polish farmers are making excellent use of all the funding available to them. We are better at this than countries like France or Germany. This is what we see in the assessment of utilization of funds from the Rural Development Program 2007-2013 that EU bodies performed last year.

When correlated, two initiatives under the program—structural pensions and helping young farmers—enable the process of generation change in rural areas to accelerate. After the applications come in, we can clearly see how many young people in Poland see their opportunity in farming. These are educated people who are modernizing their family farms and who are becoming managers running their farms in a modern way that is no different from the way French or German farmers operate.

These young people know very well what to invest in and how. Poland offers very good conditions for developing many types of activity in agriculture and its environment. Maintaining the natural environment of rural areas, soil without excessive chemical fertilization and landscape diversity are factors conducive to undertaking all kinds of agricultural activity.

Organic farming is developing rapidly. This is not yet the level we have in the “old” EU15 but progress has been enormous. We need to realize that this will never be the dominating type of farming, but it will certainly develop quickly in response to consumer demand. Agritourism farms are also developing, offering not only a high standard but also attractive programs and ideas for tourists as well as—no less important—products and dishes typical of a given region.

Also testifying to development is the fact that for years Polish foodstuffs have been winning increasing appreciation among consumers not only in Europe but worldwide. This is the effect of having raw materials of excellent quality and an advanced food processing industry that also uses good traditional recipes.

I am in no doubt that if the EU manages to undertake a bold and real reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, European agriculture as a whole will regain its competitive capacity on the global market. We need to remember that in the not so distant future, in 20 to 30 years, we will face the necessity of doubling food production across the world.

That’s why I know that if someone likes working in agriculture and has ideas for the development of their own farm, they will know without any problem what direction they should take.
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